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Krampus, in central European popular legend, a half-goat, half-demon monster that punishes misbehaving children at Christmastime. He is the devilish companion of St. Nicholas. Krampus is believed to have originated in Germany, and his name derives from the German word Krampen, which means “claw.”
Krampus was thought to have been part of pagan rituals for the winter solstice. According to legend, he is the son of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld. With the spread of Christianity, Krampus became associated with Christmas—despite efforts by the Catholic church to ban him. The creature and St. Nicholas are said to arrive on the evening of December 5 (Krampusnacht; “Krampus Night”). While St. Nicholas rewards nice children by leaving presents, Krampus beats those who are naughty with branches and sticks. In some cases, he is said to eat them or take them to hell. On December 6, St. Nicholas Day, children awaken to find their gifts or nurse their injuries.
Festivities involving Krampus include the Krampuslauf (“Krampus run”). In this activity, which often involves alcohol, people dressed as the creature parade through streets, scaring spectators and sometimes chasing them. Beginning in the late 20th century, amid efforts to preserve cultural heritage, Krampus runs became increasingly popular in Austria and Germany. During this time Krampus began to be celebrated internationally, and the monster’s growing appeal was evidenced by numerous horror films. Some claimed that the expanding popularity of Krampus was a reaction to the commercialization of Christmas.